KANSAS CITY, Mo. and PALM BAY, Fla. -- Just five months after announcing the creation of a state-of-the-art Center for Integrated Algal Research, Midwest Research Institute (MRI) has installed and activated two technically distinct bioreactor technologies to accelerate the Institute's pursuits in algae research. MRI recently activated an open pond "raceway" cultivation system at its laboratory in Palm Bay, Fla., and a continuous flow, closed loop photobioreactor at its field station near Kansas City, Mo.

Through the Center for Integrated Algal Research, MRI is leveraging the Institute's expertise in biotechnology, chemistry, systems engineering and bioinformatics to provide government and industry with a broad range of integrated R&D services related to the use of algae in solving energy and environmental challenges. MRI's algae research and development efforts are focused in two core areas: developing biofuels and related products, and addressing carbon dioxide capture.

"Within the R&D industry, we are seeing the pace of algae research increase at a significant rate as we look for new ways to address energy and environmental challenges," said Stanley Bull, Ph.D., Director of Energy Programs at MRI.

"Many organizations take the approach of using either the closed or open bioreactor systems for their research. MRI now has an advantage by being able to study both systems to determine the best and most effective methods for culturing and processing specific strains of algae for use in producing biofuels or addressing carbon dioxide capture."

MRI, an independent scientific research organization, has more than 30 years of experience associated with renewable energy research and environmental sustainability.

MRI's open bioreactor system in Palm Bay includes two open pond raceway channels, each 40 feet long and 4 feet wide. The two raceways combined have a capacity of 8,000 gallons of water and are currently producing approximately 330 pounds of dry algal biomass per month with projections to increase biomass output with new R&D improvements. The pilot raceway cultivation system provides a platform ideally suited for the investigation of technologies related to scale-up of algae production in open systems.

"Adding the raceway bioreactor represents a fundamental step in MRI's effort to establish a renewable fuel production system that integrates and automates algae growth, harvest, and oil extraction," said Roy Swiger, Ph.D., Director of MRI's Florida Division. "The system will also be used to research water quality and recovery, as well as energy efficiency."

MRI's closed loop photobioreactor in Kansas City provides a pilot scale algae production facility enclosed in a greenhouse to allow for year-round testing. This closed system has a capacity of approximately 1,000 gallons of algae dense medium and is capable of harvesting approximately 90 pounds of dry mass per month. Artificial lighting is available and allows for exploring effects from using a variety of real world and simulated environments.

"This robust system provides a unique test bed for rigorous characterization of diverse algae strains and stringent monitoring of their associated growth conditions, said Roger Harris, Ph.D., MRI Associate Vice President and Director of the Energy and Life Sciences Division. "It also provides integration of harvesting and other processing equipment for end-to-end product operations."

By employing both systems, MRI will be better equipped to assist government and industry in maximizing the potential of algae for solving energy and environmental challenges. The Center's comprehensive focus includes characterization of preferred algal strains, growth optimization, contamination mitigation, harvesting methods, oil extraction, and carbon capture.

MRI, a not-for-profit scientific research organization with 1,800 employees nationwide, performs contract research and laboratory consulting services for clients in government, industry, and academia. Established in 1944, MRI is one of the nation's leading independent research institutes conducting research in the areas of national security and defense, energy and environment, life sciences, food and agriculture, and transportation safety. With headquarters in Kansas City, MRI also has facilities in Palm Bay, Fla., Frederick, Md., and Rockville, Md. MRI is one of the two entities in the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, that manages and operates the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo., for the U.S. Department of Energy, and has managed NREL since its inception in 1977.

SOURCE: Midwest Research Institute via PR Newswire.